Min Teo is Consensys’ executive director for strategic initiatives. She has built quite a reputation for herself within the blockchain and crypto space where she believes in empowering people in general and sending a powerful message to women to participate in technology in order to make it better. However, she also believes that it is even more important for girls and boys to be curious about their surroundings and do what they want to do rather than what society expects. Here, she talks with Coin Rivet’s Olivier Acuna to explain more…
MT: I think it happened over a few years. I transitioned from more traditional finance where I was working for a credit fund up until 2015 to the startup world. When I was working for the credit fund, a lot of smart guys I knew who were our clients were mining bitcoin. Then I took a little bit of interest but didn’t pay too much attention because it wasn’t my core business at the time. I think the second encounter early last year was something that I couldn’t ignore. At the time, I had transitioned to a startup, and I was running an operation in finance for a UK FinTech startup where the primary business was payments and loyalty. I had a project where I was working closely with the engineering team to optimise our payments costs. Being relatively new to the payment world, I wasn’t jaded yet, and I started understanding the world of payments a bit more, I started asking some pretty fundamental questions. Why are scheme fees set that way? Why is interchanged set that way? Why do we have to pay gateway fees? People just told me ‘Min, that’s just the way things are. You can’t really question them’. So, it became pretty clear to me that true disruption doesn’t happen while the incumbents are still very much entrenched in the ecosystem.
The whole acquiring process, the payment service providers, the gateways, they weren’t going anywhere. The only way to add any real, lasting change to the payments back end was to rip it out and replace it with a new system. That’s when I started reading about blockchain and fell down the proverbial blockchain rabbit hole and never looked back.
I think the part that really got to me was in regards to cross-border payments because they can take up to a week. It’s incredibly cumbersome, not that I’m allowed to do this because it’s illegal, but, technically I could send a box of money to India, and it’ll get there faster than if I try to do it digitally. The money itself doesn’t actually go through the system. It’s just double entry accounting, and the banks reconcile it. And that was the point where I really understood that technology can truly revolutionise the way that people interact with commerce, the way they buy things, the way they pay for things, the way that they pay each other, and it seemed like a tremendous opportunity, and I want to be involved straight away.
CR: Can you tell me when you got involved with Consensys and why?
MT: I’ve been at Consensys for about six months now. I believe the sign of a great company is always the people. I encountered a bunch of people from Consensys and a lot of smart people I knew in my network who were also quitting their jobs and moving to Consensys. Jeremy Millar, who is the chief of staff in London, is someone I knew from a prior life. I was looking for a new opportunity and contacted him. He really sold me on the vision of the company and how unique it was and in a lot of ways it sort of posed as a refuge for people who had become somewhat disillusioned with corporate hierarchies, centralised office governance that is very prevalent in most companies. The idea of working for a fully decentralised company I believe is very inspiring to smart people to build cool stuff, and that was very appealing to me.
CR: You talk about Consensys being unique. Why?
MT: Consensys is now about 950 people strong across 30 countries. What sets us apart from other corporations or even other tech companies or fast-growing startups is that we are committed to having a decentralised mode of operation. What this means is that we are creating an empowering environment for people to seek creative solutions to problems rather than what is prevalent in many traditional organisations where office environment is typically structured to prevent people from screwing up. With that in mind, everyone at Consensys is empowered. Everyone is enabled to make their own decisions.
At Consensys we have a flat hierarchy, we’re self-governing, there’s a lot of space for self-initiation and people act in a very autonomous yet, at the same time, Consensys-driven ways. This enables smart people to become internal entrepreneurs bringing out the best in them. I believe that at heart humans are a collaborative species. People tend to do the right thing if they’re given the tools and given the emotional support and also the flexibility to do so. So, you really see a lot of cool projects that come together just by people coming together very naturally and very organically. We, basically, just try to ensure that we’re disseminating information and communicating as effectively as we can.
CR: Do you feel there’s a political ideology coming together with technology in the blockchain and crypto space among people who want to bring about real change? Are you in a battle against multinationals and centralised banks and governments?
MT: Interesting point. I think there’s certainly a lot of philosophically-driven people who are pursuing some form of ideology within the space and I’m supportive of it, I think it’s great.
I do see this coming together over time within organisations, governments and cities the more we become decentralised. If you look at the original architecture of the Internet that is how it was meant to be in many ways. I think we have to sort of take a step back and look at counterfactuals and ask what centralisation or decentralisation is and whether it’s artificial or not. I think I’m a little bit less pedantic ideologically, but philosophically speaking, I do very much believe in structures and systems that empower the individual from the bottom up.
What excites me about this space is really what the technology can bring us that the web cannot. But yes, I believe that because we’re becoming increasingly reliant on technology. So technology and politics will fuse together. I may not live to see it, but I do believe the trend is going that way.
CR: Could you tell me just a little bit about your background and how you came to the UK?
MT: I grew up in Canada, and I was born in Singapore. I moved to Canada when I was a teenager to finish high school. I went to university there and started my career there working in an investment firm as an analyst. My prior company asked me to come to London and work for them in the region. I’ve now been in London for six years.
CR: From your point of view and experience, can you say that your male counterparts in the industry are welcoming women?
MT: I have to say that having worked in male-dominated industries my entire career, from finance to tech startups to the blockchain, that men in the crypto and blockchain industry are more welcoming of women. However, the sector remains male-dominated, so, we’re not entirely there yet although women have come a long way.
Again, in this industry, my experience is that inclusivity and diversity are indeed at the top of their minds and not just to women, but also to LBGT, transgender or people who are non-binary. However, I believe we also have to begin thinking of inclusivity and diversity for the old and young. We also have to start thinking about diversity in very broad terms to ensure that we are getting that – the breaths of thought that are necessary as we are building technology that will have an impact on future generations.
It’s one thing that I think that makes me very proud to be working in this space. It’s just a level of female talent that is building cool stuff in the ecosystem and they also just happened to be female. So, it was the best startups like Lightning Lab, whose founder is Elizabeth Stark, and Parity, founded by Jutta Steiner, where women are leading predominantly male engineering teams and also, producing some market-leading products that are being very widely used by many participants in the blockchain ecosystem.
I try to focus more on highlighting the work of female entrepreneurs who are heads down and building as opposed to looking at the stats and think about the gap because we have a lot to celebrate. I think women have come a long way and in a lot of ways and, given the spotlight that is on this issue, like, there has been no better time to be a woman working in a traditionally male-dominated space.
MT: I definitely believe more women in this industry is very important. It’s fundamental everywhere to have more women. When you’re building things you have to think, and it has to be first and foremost in your mind that we are equals and things should be developed and created by both men and women. There’s no better way to invoke human principles than that of a human-centred design as opposed to gender-centred. If you think about women being half of the population and we’re trying to drive blockchain adoption, and we’re thinking about a content or a community initiative that only appeals to men. Then you are, in many ways, excluding half the population. So, I think having that inclusion of opinion and ideas and also initiatives that speak to women is very important to drive adoption and also attract more brilliant minds to this space.
There are also tons of stats that show how women do make a huge and very positive difference in decision-making processes. Based on those stats, I believe that the natural tendencies are that men tend to be more aggressive and impulsive when making decisions, specifically, and women tend to be a bit more in favour of seeking consensus. I think having women sitting around tables will improve the decision-making and also help the calibration towards better outcomes on the floor. I’m an avid student of sociology, and I think having more women also reminds people about the societal responsibility involved with raising children and how so many times gender initiatives are not necessarily just tailored for women. Right? It’s tailored for people become better parents and for them to have more time and better resources to raise a child in a more empowering and more inclusive environment which along with loving care will help them thrive and become productive adults in society. In conclusion, yes, you can make a connection that more women in technology will make the world a better place.
CR: Do you have a message for women or even girls regarding technology and how important it may be for them to participate?
MT: Definitely! I would tell them to be curious, to never stop learning. There’s a vast movement globally to get more girls into stem education and given that a lot of the future lies in technology and having a strong foundation in stem education. It’s best you prepare for the future. But, I also believe that multidisciplinary studies are very important. Education in humanities, for example, played an important role in my upbringing. It has helped me develop more holistic approaches even to technology, which seems to be quite cold and hard. I think the human element of technology is equally important and that’s where education in things like humanities come into play. I would tell them to be more focused and constant in learning. Be more flexible. So, instead of following that traditional gender role-based upbringing, boys and girls should dedicate themselves to what truly interests them.
CR: How do you see yourself bring about change within the industry?
MT: Quite a broad world we’re living in today. I mean we at Consensys are working on a whole lot of different projects, about a hundred at any given point of time and we certainly hope that one of them will have a lasting impact on something. Many of us believe that blockchain and crypto through decentralisation will empower people and help fight many issues such as poverty and corruption. Consensys, particularly, is empowering entrepreneurs to create exciting products and infrastructure and applications and that will provide better inclusion for future generations. Also, help make our lives more efficient and more collaborative. Consensys believes positive change can be made through empowering its staff to be more creative and innovative. This is the best way to solve entrenched problems and bring long-lasting solutions to them. Consensys, in my opinion, is one of the best platforms globally for any entrepreneur to partner with or build their businesses on as it has incubated 50 startups in the blockchain space and we’ll continue moving forward with this in mind. Consensys is proud of enabling great entrepreneurs who might have been refused funding from traditional sources in spite of their great ideas. Consensys has been an enormous enabler of innovation within the space.
CR: Where do you see yourself within the next 10 years?
MT: I tend not to plan too far ahead because those plans never come true and as long as I’m where I want to be, I’m pretty happy with that, and I stay flexible, and I roll with the punches, this is a super exciting space. There are a lot of smart people who are innovating in this space. I expect to be working on blockchain technologies and applications for the foreseeable future for sure.
CR: Where do you see Consensys in the next few years?
MT: I think we’re growing very quickly, expanding geographically and expanding across product lines and industry verticals. People in the industry have compared us to the alphabet of the blockchain and it’s a compliment that we don’t take lightly that also comes with its inherent responsibility to get to work.
CR: Do you believe blockchain can help fight poverty, corruption and inequality?
MT: Blockchain has the potential of providing empowerment to the people at the individual level. If you look at the people in Venezuela they’ve lost faith in the central banking system and are gradually moving into crypto. You can see how it’s a very enabling technology that allows every single person to have a bank account in their pocket, which in itself is powerful. Another excellent example of this is Afghanistan, where traditionally women don’t have a bank account, but this is changing. There’s a nonprofit blockchain organisation paying female entrepreneurs to do coding work for them. This is empowering women in Afghanistan. Technology definitely has far-reaching abilities for the inclusion of unbanked people as well as finding solutions for other issues.
CR: Do you believe blockchain will soon become widely adopted by governments, multinationals and even smaller businesses?
MT: Absolutely! It’s still in its early days, so technology is a journey rather than a destination. We already see many governments and corporations embarking on that journey. The ICE group that owns the New York Stock Exchange and tens of exchanges more has formed a consortium to establish a blockchain-based crypto trading platform, which is just one of many validation points indicating that mainstream adoption is imminent.
CR: Cryptocurrency, will it substitute fiat or coexist with it?
MT: I see it becoming mainstream, but coexisting with fiat.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the author should not be considered as financial advice. We do not give advice on financial products.